|Sunday, May 19
Updated: May 25, 10:36 PM ET
Scouting another Spiece Run 'N Slam Classic
By David Benezra and Mark Mayemura
Special to ESPN.com
FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- On the first weekend of May each spring, tournament directors Bill Hensley and Gerald Hirschy of the Spiece Gym Rats put on one of the season's best tournaments -- the Spiece Run 'N Slam Classic. This year, the 9th annual offering of the Run 'N Slam, held at the Spiece Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, did not disappoint.
With the Spiece Fieldhouse -- arguably the nation's most remarkable facility designed for club basketball with eight full-size basketball courts under one roof -- as their setting, Hensley and Hirschy have put together quite an event. The Run 'N Slam Classic is one of the country's finest spring competitions. This year's tournament (May 3-5) had a strong showing with many of the Midwest's finest club teams as well as strong club teams from across the country.
The first weekend of May has become one of the busier periods for club basketball, as two other national tournaments were also held on the same weekend in Cleveland and Minneapolis. There were 48 teams made up of rising seniors at the Run 'N Slam, which was won by Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Urbana, Illinois), which defeated All Ohio Red in an all-Midwest final. There were also 44 rising-junior teams and 32 teams made up of rising sophomores from across the country.
Hensley and Hirschy, with the assistance of tournament sponsor Tom Spiece, run one of the most well organized tournaments around. A well-supported tournament with relatively large fan turnout for a club event, this year's edition of the tournament served as validation that the Run 'N Slam Classic is once again one of the country's finest spring events, even with significant competition from other shoe company affiliated events on the same weekend.
With 128 club teams in town, there were definitely some strong individual performances from current high school underclassmen, many of whom will be strongly recruited by major colleges this fall. With so many teams playing on so many courts, it was impossible to see all of the teams or all of the better players. But, but we gave it our best shot.
Here are some observations on the individual performances at Spiece:
Todd Abernathy, 6-1, junior, PG, No Excuses (Heritage Christian H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.): The son of former Indiana star and NBA player Tom Abernathy is a strong, athletic point with a good arsenal of skills. He's a very good penetrator, who can get the ball to the rim and finish (yes, he can dunk it). Solid handle (doesn't turn it over), who will nail the open look from the perimeter. Probably needs to improve his shooting ability off the dribble. Abernathy has good leadership ability, sees the floor and creates and distributes for his teammates.
Nick Brooks, 6-5, junior, SF, Bloomington Red (Robinson H.S./Robinson, Ill.): Bloomington Red has been Nike's flagship program in Indiana (and the Midwest) for some time now, but this year's edition of Red is somewhat scaled down. There really isn't a high-major impact prospect on Bob Pryor's team. Actually, though not as talented as in years past, this year's club, comprised mainly of mid-major and low-major prospects, plays fairly well together. Brooks is the standout for this year's club. He's an athletic, physically strong and heady small forward who works hard. Brooks is mobile (though there isn't any "pop" in terms of quickness or verticality) player, who knows how to get good looks in Red's IU-style motion offense. Give him some room and he's very good at the mid-range jumper, but he's probably best in terms of scoring off of basket cuts or slashing strong to the bucket and getting fouled. He's not soft, has a nose for the ball and does make his share of garbage/hustle play contributions.
Brian Butch, 7-0, junior, C, Fox Valley Skillz (Appleton West H.S./Appleton, Wis.): A skilled big man, who steps up for big games. At least that's what he did at Spiece, when he squared off against a fellow 7-footer, the Los Angeles Rockfish's Robert Swift (Garces Memorial H.S./Bakersfield, Calif.), considered by many as the best center among sophomores nationally.
While there were other players stepping up in the game, there was an obvious head-to-head duel going on between the rising senior and the rising junior. It started off rather even with both players dunking on each other a few times, but then it was all Butch. Butch's additional year of experience and his patience, proved to be the difference.
The competitive Swift got a little too overzealous in his shot-blocking efforts, and it played into Butch's game. Butch using up-fakes and jab steps, got Swift leaning out of position and then Butch would make a counter and get off a decent looking shot away from Swift's long reach. And it didn't hurt that Butch was making nearly every shot he attempted. From tough leaners inside the key all the way to outside the 3-point arc (he made both of the 3s he attempted), Butch's shooting was on fire. And the more Butch made tough shots, the more frustrated Swift got, and the more he went for Butch's fakes. Game, set and match for the rising senior, who literally carried Fox Valley to the W (Butch had 38 points, and missed only one shot from the field).
Butch is a good athlete, who can run the floor. His biggest strength is his skill level and shooting ability. He does have some good back-to-the-basket game (ie.: up-and-under, a drop step, and a few drop step counters). But his future will be based upon his face-up skills. Butch, while not overly physical, isn't soft, he competes and he won't hesitate to dive on the floor and make hustle plays. He can play either post position right now, but his future is probably at the power forward position (especially if his 3-point shooting becomes a more significant part of his game). He didn't look nearly as good (nor did he dominate) as he did in the Rockfish game during the rest of the tournament, but there is no denying that Butch raised his stock considerably with his play (He's probably a national top 30 to 40 player).
Justin Cage, 6-5 junior, SF, No Excuses (Pike H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.): Cage is a very athletic slasher, who gets into the paint and always gets a good look. And he finishes with an above-the-rim flair. Cage already has a nice mid-range, pull-up jumper, which he drains with consistency. He plays hard and he's a scorer more than a shooter. Cage boards well and can also handle the ball in the open court. He is also very strong at posting up and using mismatches. Cage just plays bigger than 6-5, and is a pretty heady ballplayer who will step up and take a charge.
Justin Doellman, 6-7, junior, SF, Cincy AAU Red (Ryle H.S./Ryle, Ken.): A tall, slender perimeter player with decent athleticism and better skills, Doellman can handle the ball some, slash to the paint and he can shoot with range. A finesse player right now, think of a poor-man's Mike Dunleavy. Looks like he has some upside, but not overly-productive right now. Doellman verbally committed to Xavier on the first day of the tournament.
Rodney Edgerson, 6-6, junior, SF, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Woodruff H.S./Peoria, Ill.): Edgerson is a solid role player on the Ft. Sooy squad who can knock down the open jumper when necessary. He's a good athlete, a competitor, who handles his role well. He gets his share of hustle plays and contributes in a quiet fashion. Nonetheless, Edgerson and his efforts were vital to Ft. Sooy's success.
Brandon Faust, 6-6, junior, SF, All Ohio Red (Brookhaven H.S./Columbus, Ohio): A very athletic wing, who likes to attack the basket, Faust gets up big time and is very comfortable playing over the rim. He plays hard and can also shoot the ball. Faust showed off some mid-range game, too. Didn't get to see him as much as we would have liked, but there is no denying that he's a big time athlete.
Sundiata Gaines, 6-0, sophomore, combo guard, New York Gauchos (Molloy H.S./Briarwood, N.Y.): Gaines is a strong, well-built point guard, who fits the NYC mode of a guard who lives to take the ball to the rim. He's got the handle and he's a strong penetrator. When he goes to the rack, he's looking for his own shot. He's got that scorer/points guard tunnel vision. If he grows taller, he'll be a high-major recruit. But he also should start trying to create for others and distribute the ball more. Still, Gaines is a talent. Not known for his shooting ability, maybe he just liked the Central Standard Time because his jumper was falling at Spiece. Helped lead his team to the Spiece juniors-to-be championship.
Jimmy Goffredo, 6-1, junior, SG, Los Angeles Rockfish (Crescenta Valley H.S./La Crescenta, Calif.): The best outside shooting threat viewed at Spiece, Goffredo can really stroke the long-jumper. Excellent mechanics and a quick release, if he's got an open look, it's money. Goffredo also moves well without the ball to set up his jumper. Smart enough to put it on the floor and make hard basket cuts when tightly guarded, either for the mid-range pull-up/floater or finish in the paint area. A solid, but unspectacular athlete, Goffredo does show toughness and the ability to guard on the perimeter. A heady player (son of a former successful coach), Goffredo could play anywhere from the Ivy to being a role-player (sharpshooter) for a high-major program. Yes, he's got Ivy-caliber grades, too.
Justin Hawkins, 6-6, junior, SF, Los Angeles Rockfish (Mayfair H.S./Lakewood, Calif.): An old-school type, Hawkins isn't a flashy, over-the-rim type, but he's a solid performer who just gets the job done. He's solid like Curtis Sumpter (Bishop Loughlin H.S./Brooklyn, N.Y.), who is headed to Villanova. But, don't get us wrong, he's a good athlete, with good strength and tenacity. But above all, Hawkins is more player than anything else. He shoots the 3, is good (but not flashy) off the dribble and he finishes, often utilizing his off-hand (left), with surprising accuracy. A well-rounded ballplayer who plays with a competitive fire. Steps up and will draw the charge and rebounds taller than his height. Hawkins has been getting recruited pretty hard by the likes of Arizona and USC, with plenty of other schools getting more involved this spring.
Martin Iti, 6-11, junior, C, Colorado X-Press White (Winchendon Prep/Winchendon, Mass.): Iti, who spent the past year at Winchendon Prep, after several years of hip-hopping across the country at different high schools, appears to have grown up. He's definitely filled out well (he's probably around 250-plus) and he's playing with lots of confidence.
This kid has had almost as many immigration issues as Elian Gonzalez. We remember seeing Iti (it must have been four years ago), when he was a tall (he was about 6-10 then) and very skinny freshman-to-be playing at the Las Vegas Big Time with a Las Vegas-based team in a near-empty gym. He was very raw at the time (poor fundamentals), but had that height and some good athleticism. He was, at that time, reportedly set to play for Durango High in Vegas. But that didn't work out and he was then rumored to be in New Mexico and Colorado, before he settled in Florida for a stretch. Then, he wound up in Southern California, where he played for Servite High in Anaheim.
Then there was some highly-publicized INS issues to complicate matters. To make a long story short, Iti eventually ended up in his native Australia. And last September, he enrolled at Winchendon Prep, one of the country's top basketball powerhouses. Fortunately, this time, his paperwork is all in order and he'll be a senior next season in New England. It's unfortunate for the opposition in the NEPSAC Class A because Iti, as he showed at Spiece, is turning into quite the ballplayer.
He was dunking everything with a vengeance. He was also blocking shots and he looked pretty good with his turnaround jumper (to about 10 feet). Like the ugly duckling that turned in the swan, the development of Iti from a thin, awkward suspect into a powerful talent in the paint has been interesting to watch. And now that the 19-year old Iti has his immigration papers and his game under control, watch out, he should be very impressive this summer. Among the top 20 players in the Class of 2003.
"My first year at Winchendon, that was a big learning experience," said Iti after playing in his final game at Spiece. "I'm on track to qualifying academically for college. I'm keeping my options open right now ... Louisville, Memphis, UCLA and USC are among my current leaders or favorites."
Iti has plans to play this spring and summer with Pump N Run. He's going to play at the adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey this July and will be at the adidas Big Time Tournament later that month in Las Vegas.
Naquon Jackson, 6-6, junior, SF, SYF Players (Roosevelt H.S./Gary, Ind.): Didn't get to sit and devote time to watching SYF (the club team that Milwaukee Bucks star Glen Robinson hails from and supports) this year, but they were playing on a neighboring court to a game we were watching. And we did glance over occasionally and there was one player who clearly stood out -- Jackson, a long, rangy small forward, who plays over the rim. Jackson runs the floor in transition, gets a lot of air when hitting the boards and he likes to dunk on people. Didn't see much (again, our concentration was on a neighboring court) in terms of his game away from the bucket, but the cameo view spelled out one thing: Big Time Athlete.
Lorenzo Keeler, 6-2, sophomore, SG, Los Angeles Rockfish (Escondido H.S./Escondido, Calif.): A very young looking sophomore with a lean body and a heavyweight game, Keeler is a shooting guard who knows how to score. He's quick, aggressive and skilled. He shoots the jumper well and he knows to get to the bucket with his handle (ie: first step move, inside-out dribble, spin move). And best of all, he's a big-time finisher. Keeler had a 16-point outburst in one quarter (and he didn't even play the whole eight minutes). And he doesn't force bad shots-he makes good decisions. Keeler also excelled in transition (he outruns people).
Andrew Lavender, 5-7, junior, PG, All Ohio Red (Brookhaven H.S./Columbus, Ohio): Quickness. When you're 5-7 and competing among the big boys, you better have quickness. Lavender has it in abundance, to go along with a big heart and a strong arsenal of skills. He's got a lethal combination of nasty quicks and good decision making. Lavender can push tempo in transition and he's very good in a halfcourt setting, penetrating and kicking to the open man. He also finishes fairly well in traffic for someone who is 5-7. He's a talent, no doubt, who was the main reason that All Ohio Red made it to the tournament championship.
Shaun Livingston, 6-6, sophomore, PG, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Richwoods H.S./Peoria, Ill.): After viewing the wiry point guard for a second week in a row, we've become definite believers. We are confident that Livingston is among the top 10 sophomores in the country. He's a unique talent. A very long, 6-6 (and probably still growing) point guard with a good handle, excellent vision, shooting skill and the ability to deliver the ball, creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. Simply put, he's a ballplayer, first and foremost.
Yes, there are some physical similarities to Tayshaun Prince (similar skin tone, long, lean wiry all arms and elbows frame), but at the same stage, Livingston is just a much better, more complete player. He really sees the floor. Livingston has excellent precision and texture on his passing. Livingston is a tough match-up for any high school defender. If you're shorter, he'll go over the top with both his passing and shooting skills. If you're stronger than he is, he'll use his agility to go around you. He possesses good ability to dribble penetrate and sees the double-team coming, making the defense pay with the sweet dish-off to the open teammate. He plays with a quiet efficiency.
This kid is damn good! He's the reason that the talented Ft. Sooy-No Limit squad won the 48-team tournament (with a 78-71 win over All Ohio Red). Livingston knows how to run a ballclub. Ft. Sooy-No Limit is a very talented team, which is relies on their skills and finesse to win games. They utilize good floor spacing as well as strong team shot selection. And Livingston usually makes the right decisions, getting his teammates good looks at the basket. And for the first weekend in May, they were the best team in Fort Wayne.
Richard McBride, 6-2, junior, SG, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Lanphier H.S./Springfield, Ill.): McBride, though scoring 31 against Cincy AAU Red in the semis, didn't have a good weekend. For the most part, his jumper wasn't falling. And he wasn't doing much off the dribble or away from the ball. McBride is a strongly built athlete, but wasn't enforcing his will on his opponents when his jumper went limp. When he's on, which is usually the case, he's very good at firing up 3. But without his jumper, he was often invisible on the court. Still, everyone is entitled to an off-game or an off-weekend. There will be better weekends for the talented McBride. And with these comments, you should note that Ft. Sooy-No Limit did win a very competitive tournament.
Mike McCoy, 6-7, sophomore, PF, Spiece Top Prospects (Pike H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.): McCoy is Exhibit A as to why club ball is important. This kid was seldom-used sub on his high school team this season at Pike. But as he showed at the Run 'N Slam Classic, he's gonna demand more playing time next season. Taller than the listed 6-6 in the program, McCoy is quick, active, long and he's aggressive. He's playing over the rim and he played with a passion. Also had some fearless takes to the iron and he posterized several opponents with some vicious dunks. Plays hard, he's the epitome of the word, "upside."
Drew Naymick, 6-10, junior, C, Grand Rapids Storm (North Muskegon H.S./Muskegon, Mich.): He was only there for one day (Saturday), but that was enough of a look to realize that Naymick has some talent and some upside. Good size, not overly physical, but able to score from 12-feet and in. A fairly good athlete for his size (runs the floor OK) with decent weight on him, Naymick can play back-to-the-basket or play facing up.
DeMarcus Nelson, 6-3, sophomore, PG, Northern California Elite (Vallejo H.S./Vallejo, Calif.): Nelson, who is playing this year with EBO, was with NorCal Elite just for the Spiece trip and it didn't appear to be the greatest experience for the talented 10th grader. Nelson is an extremely talented point guard and, when viewed, he was the lone bright spot on his relatively young and inexperienced (and raw) team. He's a physically strong point guard (who is also considered among the best 10th grade quarterbacks in the country), who can drill the 3 from deep (with good consistency). Nelson has a good handle, sees the floor and penetrates well. And, he competes hard. Wasn't the best setting for him (and he'll look better with better teammates), but you'll be hearing a lot about him in the near future.
Brian Randle, 6-8, junior, SF, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Notre Dame H.S./Peoria, Ill.): Very athletic lefty who reminds us of Ed O'Bannon (before the knee trouble). Very athletic for his size. Has explosive verticality and can finish over traffic. He's a finesse player/super athlete, who isn't very physical in terms of contact. Can come over on the helpside and block shots, but doesn't play very strong or physical. He's got a small forward's mentality on offense, at his best facing up. Doesn't make the best decisions yet on offense (ie:: getting four of his shots gloved or tipped by a 7-foot sophomore from midrange, when he should have been blowing by the big man off the dribble; or driving baseline, hanging in mid-air when contested by the helpside D and making a wild-double windmill scoop prayer that doesn't draw iron).
All criticisms aside, after watching Randle for two consecutive tournaments (peeped his game at the Kingwood Classic in Houston the week prior), I've come to the conclusion that he's a very talented small forward with upside. Of course, he's not the perfect player yet (Who is ? And remember, even Lebron James can have an off game). Randle's upside is his size, coordination and superb athleticism. He's long, can handle the ball some, has quickness and can really get up. Can hit the open jumper and has range to beyond the 3-point line. He should improve as he gets better coaching along the way. With work on his first step move, more strength and more willingness to play with contact, he could be much better. Still, probably a national top 30 to 40 player.
Russell Robinson, 6-1, sophomore, PG, New York Gauchos (Rice H.S./New York, N.Y.): Robinson, who was named Co-MVP of the juniors-to-be division (along with Gaucho teammate Sundiata Gaines), is more of a true point guard, who can handle the ball well. He's rather lean (still might be growing) and has a nice wiry basketball body. Good athlete with very good skills. Robinson was another strong penetrator for the Gauchos. He does see the floor and will find his open teammates. Known as a better shooter than Gaines, somehow his shot was falling from the perimeter in Indiana. Might have more upside than Gaines due to his style of play.
Dan Ruffin, 5-10, junior point guard, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Peoria H.S./Peoria, Ill.): The younger brother of former IU star A.J. Guyton, Ruffin is a valuable role player for Ft. Sooy and often makes big contributions off the bench. Like his older brother, Ruffin is a deadly outside shooter. In one close contest, he came in cold off the bench and nailed three successive 3-pointers from all over the court. And while Livingston is usually on the ball, Ruffin can also handle the rock and push tempo.
Monty St. Clair, 6-9, junior, F, Cincy AAU Red (Roger Bacon H.S./Cincinnati, Ohio): A very fundamental postman on one of the most fundamental teams in the tournament. St. Clair, who will likely be a power forward at the next level, is a good athlete with better skills and footwork. He's got the spin moves, the up-and-under, and the necessary toughness. A good scorer, who can score with his back to the basket, or has the face-up skills to step out 15-feet and be a threat. Good shooting touch and better basketball IQ.
St. Clair, who has already been offered by the likes of Duquesne and Tulane, will be taking an unofficial visit to Illinois. He's also getting a strong rush from Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Western Kentucky, with dozens of other schools also sending mail. The 222-pounder is already a full qualifier (3.4 gpa/27-ACT) and he averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots this past season.
Jabbari Samuels, 6-5, sophomore, PF, New York Gauchos (Mount Vernon H.S./Mount Vernon, N.Y.): Playing on the juniors-to-be champions along with Gaines and Robinson, Samuels was the unsung hero. He's only 6-5 right now and must weigh about 240, but he was a dominant player in the paint for the New York crew. Sure, if he's to play high-major, he'll probably need to grow a couple of inches, but he's plenty good already. Strong post moves and aggressive on the boards. He doesn't mind contact, he absorbs it. Samuels would have made his presence felt if he had played up in the seniors-to-be division.
Blake Schilb, 6-7, post-graduate-to-be, F, Ft. Sooy-No Limit (Brewster Academy/Wolfeboro, N.H.): A jack of all trades, master of none type, Schilb will be a post-graduate next season at Brewster Academy. He plays a strong role on the Ft. Sooy squad, with the ability to knock down the 3, put the ball on the floor (to alleviate pressure) and/or slash to the bucket. And he's got some toughness on the boards and a pretty good nose for the ball. A definite mid-major recruit, who should see his recruiting blossom with the move to Brewster.
Joel Smith, 6-5, sophomore, SF, Los Angeles Rockfish (Brewster Academy/Wolfeboro, N.H.): One of the most electrifying dunkers at Spiece, Smith is a slasher who plays way over the rim. The lefty has a good first step, but even better vertical. And 200-pounds, he's a power dunker, able to sustain contact above the rim and still finish the power flush. Currently attending Lompoc High in California (he played for his father, Joe Smith), he'll be a junior next season (he's applied, been accepted and is a definite for Brewster) and should be an impact newcomer for the NEPSAC (New England Prep School Athletic Conference) Class A.
Smith, unlike the stereotype of the soft Cali player, competes hard. He also has a soft shooting touch. He can make the 3, but he's very good shooting from mid-range. And when he isn't dunking the ball, he's also a very good finisher around the bucket. He rebounds well for his size and can handle the ball some. Count Smith as a Top 50 talent for the Class of 2004.
Parnell Smith, 6-6, F, Spiece Central Stars (Pike H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.): A strong, well-built athlete who goes to the hole hard. Reportedly, he's played a lot on the block for his high school team, but his height probably dictates that he play on the wing. He's in the midst of making the transition right now to the perimeter. He can shoot the ball and with range. But the closer he gets to the paint, the more man he is. Plays over the rim and excels in transition (finishes everything). He's got good hands and can dribble some, but he just needs more seasoning on the wing. He'll be at the Nike All-American Camp this summer.
Robert Swift, 7-0, sophomore, C, Los Angeles Rockfish (Garces Memorial H.S./Bakersfield, Calif.): A very good athlete for his size, Swift excels as a shot-blocker and with his low-post offense. While he's not a Tyson Chandler freak athlete, he's a very good athlete for a 16-year-old at 7-feet, 233. And he's coordinated, got great hands and has good fundamentals.
Unlike his experience in Houston (the week prior), Swift got numerous touches down low (due to injuries and other issues, Rockfish was not playing with their top point guards in the tournament ... their top team was actually playing with the fifth-best point in the program) and was often able to score with his post moves. He's got a soft shooting touch in close and he's athletic enough to get more than his share of dunks when he gets position. And he catches nearly everything. And Swift is an excellent interior passer and he's very good at kicking the ball out to open shooters when he's being double-teamed. He's fairly physical for his age and he does rebound well. And Swift is a pretty good shot-blocker, though he has a tendency to try to block everything.
His youth and inexperience was showing in his matchup against Fox Valley Skillz's Brian Butch, the 7-foot rising senior. Butch has a growing reputation and Swift was obviously looking forward to the matchup. Swift's eagerness to play defense got the best of him. He usually had good defensive position on Butch, but Swift would try to block his shot, instead of just playing tall, holding his ground with his long arms extended and making Butch kick the ball out. By getting Swift up in the air, Butch was able to use his pivot, counter and get a better look, which was all he needed since he was unconscious shooting-wise (he was 14-15 from the field).
Swift rebounded nicely from that showing and his game improved as the tournament progressed. He was a big factor in Rockfish's strong showing in their round of eight loss to Ft. Sooy. On offense, he made big plays inside, often punctuating plays with emphatic dunks. And on defense, he was a force down low, blocking or altering shots.
In fact against the talented Ft. Sooy, Swift, who isn't fluid with his perimeter defense (name a 16 year old 7-footer who is), was often matched-up against the very athletic, 6'8 small forward Brian Randle. Swift was able to close out on Randle to deny any 3-point shots and he actually blocked four of Randle's shots off the dribble. There were also couple of games in the tournament where Swift had over a dozen blocks, respectively. He's a potent shot blocking force down low, who does not get into foul trouble. Though he was clearly outplayed by Butch, there were enough strong moments by Swift at Spiece to validate his strong ranking in the sophomore class.
He's already had coaches from most of the nation's top powers (e.g: Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, USC, Stanford) stop by his high school and his high school games to pay their respects. He'll get a chance for a rematch against Butch in July, as both big men will be at adidas ABCD Camp (Farleigh-Dickinson University/Teaneck, N.J.). Butch is very good, but I don't think he'll score anywhere close to his exceptional performance from Spiece.
Sebastian Telfair, 5-11, sophomore, PG, New York Gauchos (Lincoln H.S./Brooklyn, N.Y.): Yes, this isn't his regular team (he normally plays with Brooklyn Bridge, a.k.a Juice All-Stars) and it looked that way in his early games in Indiana. Passes verging on the spectacular were bouncing off new teammates who weren't looking for Sebastian's dimes. Telfair driving into the key, only to have one of the other Gauchos making a cut in the same area (or worse yet, new teammates just standing there), bringing the defensive help to clog the lane. But things got better as the tournament progressed.
First off, he's the best high school sophomore in the country. That ain't no hype. Telfair has gotten stronger and bigger since he was viewed last summer. He's an often electrifying performer, who can penetrate at will. He makes some sweet dishes and really knows how to make his team better. He is very quick and just as quick with the dribble. He's got the entire bag of tricks regarding his handle and he usually plays under control and makes good decisions.
Telfair is also a major competitor, who doesn't like to lose. He's got a maturity on the court, uncommon for 16-year olds. This kid isn't resting on his already lofty laurels. He drew a large crowd on whichever court he played on at the Spiece Fieldhouse, although it was often hard to tell who was rooting for him or against him. That's the price of fame. Thankfully, Telfair is mature enough to handle it well.
Telfair brought the Gauchos back from nearly a 20-point deficit in their round of 16 loss to Bloomington Red. And he did it, nearly single-handedly. He was taking it to the rack, he was drilling his jumper and he was finding open teammates. Down by 16 in the second half, the Gauchos, under Telfair's force, tied the game in the last minute before being eliminated.
It wasn't Hoosiers with Gene Hackman, but Telfair put on quite a show for the Indiana folk.
Robert Vaden, 6-5, sophomore, SF, Spiece Top Prospects (Pike H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.): Long considered one of the nation's best prospects in the Class of 2004, Vaden hasn't grown much taller than when we first viewed him at Spiece two years ago. He worked hard when I viewed him this tournament, but wasn't getting a whole lot accomplished. He's a perimeter player, who wasn't shooting the ball very well in the tournament (and he was playing down, in the juniors-to-be division). Good slasher to the paint with good finishing ability. Very good athlete with good size and strength for his youth and position. It's tough when you're rated a national Top 5 talent as a middle school baller because so much is expected of you when get to high school. He's still got the tools/ability to be a Top 20-40 player (or higher), but he's gonna have to show more consistency with his jumper. Still, time is on his side (he's only a sophomore), but the clock is ticking. Committed to Purdue a long time ago.
Kyle Visser, 6-10, junior, PF, Grand Rapids Storm (Forest Hills Central H.S./Grand Rapids, Mich.): A big man who got a chance to shine as his more heralded teammate Naymick, was in Fort Wayne for only one day. He's a pretty good athlete for his size, runs the floor well and possesses good mobility. And he can shoot the rock (soft shooting touch). Visser can also face-up and put it on the floor a little and create his own shot. Nice consistency from 10-12 feet. Visser is a power forward all the way and he might even have more upside than Naymick.
Martel Webster, 6-5, freshman, PG, Gary Payton Nike Select (Seattle Prep H.S./Seattle, Wash.): A tall, athletic point guard, who was giving Ft. Sooy-No Limit fits with his dribble penetration and his ability to find teammates for open jumpers. Webster also shot the ball well (he's got range) and played with a precocious confidence for a mere 9th grader competing against some of the best juniors in the country. A definite blue chipper, he's definitely keep an eye on ... it'll be interesting to see if new UW head coach Lorenzo Romar can wrap this one up early, before too many of the nation's powers start to get involved.
Stefan Zimmerman, 6-10, junior, F, Champions Athletic Academy (Mountain View H.S./Orem, Utah): A commit to the University of Utah and Rick Majerus' big man factory a year ago, Zimmerman is a skilled lefty who can shoot the ball. He's got good size (he's probably around 230) and has a knack for getting a good look. Good shooting touch. He's not stiff in terms of athleticism, just average athletically in terms of footspeed. Still, well schooled and possessing good skills.
On The Recruiting Trail
David Benezra and Mark Mayemura cover the national college basketball recruiting scene at their Recruiting USA (www.recruitingusa.com) website. E-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (818) 783-2244 or (818) 783-2212 for subscription information.